The Wild West, Americans and their Guns: The American Fundamental Right to Bear Arms

Photo of Ranger John Reynolds Hughes (The Real Lone Ranger) and other Lawmen, Unknown Photographer, 1886

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The famous western radio and later television series entitled GunSmoke is an iconic film that perpetuated the American myth of the old west. It celebrates the quick drawing Marshall Dillon who settles justice on his own terms by shooting and killing all of the bad guys. American movies celebrate and glorify gun toting heroes, the carefree attitude of the cowboy and his gun. However, guns in reality do not always bring about such a positive outcome. GunSmoke Episode

In contrast, an NPR article by Leila Fidel from November 11, 2018 was entitled “Reporting On Mass Shootings: A Familiar Heartbreaking Script” The article highlights the recent slaughter of 12 innocent people at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, California, characterizing it as an “all too familiar script.” Even though these scenes are becoming common place, that does not take from the fact that innocent lives were once again taken, all too soon. People lost friends and loved ones and have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to go on living. When mass shootings take place such as the ones in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, questions and discussions resurface such as “why” and “how could we let this happen again?” Here is a list of mass shootings in US from a 2018 New York Times article

A hot button topic in the history of the United States is centered on the right of American citizens to have guns (lots of guns and as many as one wants). Supporters of gun control push for stricter firearm laws. This includes implementing more stringent background checks and longer waiting periods for those purchasing guns. They also push for mandatory child safety locks and a limit of one handgun purchase per month. They further push for raising the legal age limit for gun ownership to age 21 from the current age of 18. Advocates of gun rights argue that the above mentioned kind of legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some people read the second amendment as their American right to bear as many arms as they so wish, as long as they have a permit. With the rise in gun violence and mass shootings this has been a contentious topic. The United States is “one of 6 countries that make up more than half of gun deaths worldwide.” That is, “half of all gun-related deaths in 2016 occurred in six nations — Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala” (, 2018).

Has gun violence become a part of our identity? With the proliferation of shows like The Walking Dead and classic movies like The Godfather or even the popularity of combat video games like Assassin’s Creed violence does seem to be ingrained in the very fabric of what is means to be American. Perhaps these forms of entertainment hearken back to the romanticism of the old west and the myth of the fearless lawman, as well as outlaws who were immortalized by their quick draw of the gun. The golden age of radio and television was full of westerns that glorified the cowboy and depicted native americans as savages who deserved to be shot and killed.

Perhaps our obsession with guns comes from a rising fear of people who are different from us (Racially, ethnically, culturally or economically), what scholars call a fear of “the other.” Or perhaps it is a legitimate concern for increasingly unsafe neighborhoods and more firearms are necessary. The old adage goes something like this “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But if people did not have access to the guns in the first place they would not be able to commit mass murders or kill people to settle a simple dispute.

This is an important topic for discussion in social studies classrooms, as future generation of citizens in the US will have to figure out how to solve the rising complexity of issues surrounding gun violence that comes in the form of: Mass shootings, African Americans being killed by law enforcement and a rise in street violence. Below are some lesson plans, articles and links teachers can use to foster lessons and discussions about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

The Culture of Violence in the American West Myth versus Reality

Second Amendment Lesson Plan

Teaching the Bill of Rights: The Second Amendment

Interactive Constitution

California Bar Shooting Leaves 12 dead, Including Sheriff’s Sergeant, Police Say

The Terrible Numbers That Grow with Each Mass Shooting

Mass Shootings in the United States

There’s a Gun for Every American. But Less Than a Third Own Guns.

8 Charts That Explain America’s Gun Culture

American Guns in Ten Charts

How US Gun Culture Compares With the World in Five Charts



  1. Gun control has been a super major topic in media for the past few years. No one is arguing that gun violence in the United States is not an issue as well, even those who oppose gun control. There are many aspects of the problem and looking at each one poses a solution. For instance some could say that the general public has access to firearms that are completely unnecessary and think the solution is to limit the amount of ammunition a firearm available to the general public can hold and fire with one pull of the trigger. This is one solution and would definitely reduce the body count if a mass shooting were to occur or even eliminate the shooting entirely by discouraging the shooter. Another aspect lies in the mental health of Americans. The argument here is that we live in a society where our culture glorifies guns and gun violence through music videos, movies and video games. This is true but limiting these things could then be a violation of the first amendment but could seriously positively impact the status of this issue in the United States. In my personal opinion no matter what you do there will always be bad people in the world and these people will kill people with or without guns (ex. use of homemade bombs, knives, and motor vehicles). The only thing that can be done is reduce the amount of bad people in the world through promoting mental health and discouraging bad people from doing bad things by reducing their access to tools of destruction.

  2. I thought that this article was very timely, even if it was written a year ago. The sad part is this article could be written at many given points of time in the past few decades and the most recent mass shooting would come to mind. It is becoming a “too familiar script.” In the past few weeks there were two mass shootings in Texas alone. It will be interesting to see how the Democratic Debates continue to address the issue. Beto O’Rourke brought up an interesting point in the debate when he said that he would do a buy back system of AR-15s and AK-47s. I think that we do romanticize the idea of guns too much; maybe it makes us feel more safe, more dangerous, or that we are someone else. I don’t think that there is an easy answer on how to stop violence, but I find it hard to believe it has anything to do with more people having guns.

  3. Although this article was written and posted in 2018, the topic of guns and violence still reigns in todays news. It’s so sad to see that more families are affected by senseless tragedy’s that have occurred through horrific forms of terrorism. With the recent shootings that we have seen many news outlets have opened the question of whether or not games like Fortnite, COD (call of duty), Halo, and etc. influence mass shootings. I would love to see correlations that have been discovered between video games and violence.

  4. I am a strong supporter of the second amendment and the rights for all legal law biding citizens to own them. The very reason for the right to bare arms now is the same reason it was placed in the bill of rights over 200 years ago. Our founding fathers knew all to well what a oppressive regime can do to a unarmed population, you can see it anywhere you look, on every continent a people have been mercilessly murdered not able to defend themselves. Some people will say that the american government would never do this and its ridiculous for you to have a semi auto rifle. But hear this the Jews lived a nice quite life until Hitler rose to power bans guns and death marched across Europe. The citizens today of South, Central America, and Mexico fight there own battles empty handed as the Cartels, who have guns murder anyone who stands in there way making it impossible for people to improve their lives and their countries. Gun rights should be the right of all peoples on the world because everyone should have the right to feel safe and protect there family and their property.

    That aside I do believe the guns are tools that can be used to good and evil but not having them in the good people doesn’t mean they will be out of the hands of bad people. I believe people who meaninglessly take the life’s of innocent people are despicable and should not even be remembered as that is a form of memorization. I don’t have any idea on how to curb mass shooting as they have a reason and you cant control something that happens for no purpose. The best thing I can say to help prevent mass shootings is to teach people not to devalue human life and to take people who report peoples online profile behavior more seriously. I cant tell you how many times they show a mass shooter on TV and they show their Facebook which is filled with death treats and strong political extremes on both sides.

  5. If it were up to me, I would abolish guns completely. Since it is not and because I understand that that idea is easier said than done, I would settle for stricter gun legislation. I truly believe that having guns so readily available, both in reality and in video games, is making us numb to the danger and the violence. For example, when my step-brother began playing the video game “Fortnite” he started getting significantly more angry and aggressive. We are living in a world where mass shootings are no longer a surprise, and that in itself should be enough.

  6. In my opinion the original intent of the second amendment does not correlate with its supporters’ arguments today. The amendment was written to provide a right for citizens of the United States to form militias and for these militias to have the right to posses weapons. The amendment was not written to provide citizens with the right to uncensored individual gun ownership.
    I agree that a partial explanation of the rising occurrence of gun violence is the fear of ‘the other’. Take the recent mass shooting in El-Paso, for example. A white man was fearful of Hispanic immigrants, so he took a gun into a Walmart and killed 22 people.

  7. When people advocate for more gun control many times they do not even know what “more gun control” means or what it would look like. I, personally, am happy to finally know what the constraints on it are because I feel like that part is not as well known and helps me choose a side on the issue a little bit easier. I agree with most constraints for more gun control, besides raising the age to buy a gun to 21 because I feel like that is completely unnecessary. I think as future teachers this is also an important issue to be aware of since school shootings are becoming more and more common.

  8. In my opinion, the right to bear arms is more of protecting themselves from government tyranny, which was a very big worry of the framers of the constitution in the 1770s.  They did not want to be like Britain and wanted to protect themselves with the muskets of the era.  While it is important to let Americans be able to protect themselves from criminals, it is also important to balance that freedom with an extensive background check. 

  9. There is so much to be discussed/debated about our war on guns. In my opinion, I view this as a cultural issue opposed to a racial one. Now of course, that’s my opinion and is not based on scientific data. Even though we have the right to bare arms, I still think that revisions are required to the laws in order to impose more strict control over the sales and carry permits. Now, we all know that the illegal bearings of arms is out of the common man’s control; only our law enforcement agencies can help control the illegal use/sale/trade of firearms. In regards to the instances of mass shootings, is there really any way to pre-empt this from occurring? Wouldn’t there have to be psychological testing completed on a person in order to deem if they are within a normal range to own/carry a gun? I don’t foresee this happening and don’t anticipate a way that we can avoid mass shootings from happening; we’d have to take away everyone’s guns, wouldn’t we? I honestly don’t see an end in sight regarding the gun issues.

  10. The comparison between the wild west and what is happening with gun violence in the US today is a far stretch I think. We have become a more sophisticated country since these times. The gun laws are something that need to be changed. No person needs to own assault rifles or 10 or more guns in my opinion, that’s just ridiculous. However I think it’s going to take more than just making gun laws more strict. It’s not only about how easy it is to access these weapons, it’s also about the people who feel they have to commit these horrific acts because we push aside the issue of mental illness and they feel they have no other way of being heard.

Comments are closed.